Category Archives: President Obama



On Tuesday morning President Obama will be speaking to children in schools all across America.  He will deliver the messages that we have spent our careers delivering to our students:  stay in school.  Work hard.  Take responsibility for your education.  Do your homework.  Dream big.

He’s the perfect person to sing such a hopeful tune.  By now we all know from whence this man has come.  Born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up, at least for a time, in poverty.  He struggled as a youth to maintain a focus on his education. But ultimately, he graduated from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet– including Harvard Law School.  He became a community organizer to parley his education into some good for others.  He served his community.  He ran for public office.  He expanded his influence.  And in one of the most inspirational stories in our nation’s long tradition of resilient  citizens, he rose above the odds to become the first African American President of the United States.

He’s the guy that wants to step into our classrooms and tell kids that if they work hard and persevere and not make excuses they too can achieve their dream.  He’s an orator.  He is a poet.  He is compelling.  He is engaging.

Tuesday morning when the sun rises on the first day of school across most of America, children will meet their new teacher and new classmates and the televisions will click on and the President will welcome them back.  At least some of them.

gunzjpegAs is the case with all things now in American politics, this too has been spoiled.  The President has been demonized and his intentions sullied by another fight.  The same group of unhinged people who question our President’s legitimacy as an American citizen (Dred Scott?), who challenge his authenticity as an elected official, who carry guns to his public appearances, who freely and publicly characterize him by the twin hot button n-words: “nigger” and “nazi”, who muse that he “is not one of us”, who simultaneously suggest he wants to kill our elders… now suggest he wants to get his hooks into our children’ minds. Christians… sowing the seeds of hatred.

beckKnuckleheads from the far (and not so far) right wing of the Republican Party have managed to cast so many shadows on the President’s address to school children, that most will never hear the message.  Even elected officials have gone so far as to suggest that the president intends to use his “bully pulpit” to foment socialism and spread his radical ideologies  to an unsuspecting captive audience of school kids who just want to know where to store their lunch pail in their new classrooms. 

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power. While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”  —  Jim Greer, GOP Chair, Florida

“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” — Oklahoma Republican State Senator Steve Russell

North Korea?  Are you freakin’ serious?

What is it about these people?  How far does their hypocrisy go?  I remember when their guy was in office… if you questioned his judgment (?)  or direction you were no less than a traitor to America.  I remember him trying to string two coherent sentences together on any topic.  I remember all the members of his party suddenly running for office on the “family values” ticket… then demonstrating none of the values most families I know would ever espouse.  

I remember their education showhorse called No Child Left Behind.  It was going to spur school reform in America once and for all.  It was going to resurrect our schools and get us back to the basics.  We would be able to expose those schools that aren’t taking care of children– fire the teachers and the principals and allow parents to cut bait if need be and send their kids to schools that were really teaching.  We would even close the achievement gap across racial and socio-economic lines.  And the truth would be told in test scores.

And it was.  And the truth is that No Child Left Behind was never intended to close the achievement gap nor improve the quality of public education for children in all communities across America– which may explain in part why it has done neither.  

So while parents fret over whether they should “allow their child to be exposed to the message from the White House” on Tuesday– the irony is most schools won’t have time to air it anyway.  

And the “lesson plans” and other prepared materials designed to assist teachers in framing class discussions after the President’s address?  The one’s that really have created a collective aneurism among Republicans?  The ones that actually have the audacity to challenge kids to think… that prompts them with such radical questions as “How might you help the president?”  

I can guarantee that schools won’t have time to delve into those either. They will be far too busy with drilling students on basic skills and jumping through the hoops crafted by NCLB.  They will be preparing students to answer the standardized test questions that they will confront in May.  

obamaWhat a shame.  What a loss for those children and their naive parents.  They will miss the point that Barack Obama did not rise to the station of the American Presidency because he can take standardized tests or survive a curriculum so narrowly tuned to reading and math.  He rose to the presidency because he can THINK. He is a reader, a writer, an orator, a lover of art and music and people.  He is a leader.  Spiritual.  Self disciplined and self made.  He is the embodiment of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. He is the very model of what our public schools should strive for. And perhaps that is the biggest fear of all for those on the right:  That our public schools might actually work!  That we might, if untethered from the yoke of mindless standardized testing, reach across the great socio-economic divide and actually raise children from every community and race and ethnicity and gender group– to compete.  Anywhere.  Against anybody. Even to be President of the United States.

DSC_0260This Tuesday the televisions will be on at El Milagro.  We told teachers if they can fit it into their schedules they should.  But it is up to them.  And if parents don’t want their children exposed to this man…  they can opt out.  It is their call.  Their conscious. They can be complicit in the very blatant educational malpractice that began during the Bush presidency if they so choose.  Or they could actually seize the teachable moment and model for their own children that rarest of gifts these days:  the ability to THINK for oneself.



Filed under El Milagro, President Obama, public education, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing


tedjpegThe lines draw to the heavens today… and I am paying attention.

Jose-01The Space Shuttle Discovery has ascended into orbit after long last, carrying the hopes of NASA– but also the son of migrant farm workers. Jose Hernandez picked cucumbers in Stockton as a child. Today, he is among the Latino community’s most distinguished members, circling our planet as an astronaut on his first tour in space.

And yet, at the exact same moment, our nation celebrates the life of the very senator that made Jose Hernandez’ journey possible. The Lion. Asleep now to us and for the moment surrounded by our nation’s most powerful leaders, he is bound for eternal rest with his two brothers. These Kennedy’s were my family’s patron saints. They were the source of my idealism. In their quest to pave the way for sons of farmworkers and daughters of former slaves, they changed the face of our nation. They compelled us all to live our lives in the service of others.

Senator Kennedy fought for heath care and education, social justice, and the journey of the poor. He survived the tenure of 10 presidents, beginning with his own brother’s. In over 4 decades of political battles, he wrote over 1000 laws and bills so that the civil rights of all Americans might come to full fruition. He stood for our nation’s defense. And world peace.

He fought so that there would one day be a seat on rocket ships for the likes of Jose Hernandez and the children of El Milagro. And like his brothers before him, his passions were crystallized in the Catholic tradition, as if Jesus himself approved. And he surely would.

processionIn his passing, the media has focused intently on his life. The good and the bad. The public giant, the private man. The triumphs– and the darkest hours inevitably shared on a bright bright stage. The long march to Arlington behind the riderless pony and our fallen President. That amazing euology for Bobby that has echoed for 40 years. The one that inevitably tantalizes us to pause in deep reflection, to think– if Jack and Bobby had lived a full life… what might have been.

Images of my childhood.

My own father passed in 1986. My mother just two years ago. Today would have been her 85th birthday. She would have sat in front of the television like she had for all the Kennedy funerals, rosary in hand. Holding on to her emotions until the floodgates opened with the “Ave Maria”. Tears streaming for Irish patriots.

obama and tedThe symbolism and powerful metaphors would not have been lost on her. The Latino astronaut circling above. The new President delivering another eulogy for the ages. Young. Handsome. African American. Beneficiary of all those who came before to pave a road, however narrow, toward real equality—but especially Ted Kennedy.

To tell you the truth, I’ll feel better when the Discovery and our new President are safely home. There is risk in soaring. No one knows that better than this noble family. But of course, our greatness comes only from those willing to rise above the expectations and the odds, above the bigots and the small minded… above the politics and the fear.

There is less celebration here on earth today than there is in heaven. The last brother has made it home. He said of Bobby:

“My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. But to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war… and tried to stop it.”

Today, all earthly powers have one eye on the heavens and the sleeping Lion. “But the work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. And the dream will never die.”

3 brothers


Filed under El Milagro, health care, President Obama, public education


tour djpegAfter the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong sits in third place.  Amazing.  What an athlete.  The Tour de France has to be one of the most grueling events in competitive athletics and he continues to put himself in a position to win in that legendary bicycle Race to the Top

Now that has a ring to it: “The race to the top.” And evidently President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan think so too.  In fact, they have set aside BILLIONS of federal dollars as part of a stimulus package to encourage states to “race to the top” in school reform.

At this point in the race, however,  we don’t have many details.  For example, no one seems to know what the rules are for the race or where exactly  the “top” is.  There definitely is a “Race to the Top Fund” that is a component of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress approved in February, but there are no guidelines to tell you when you win or when you lose or even when you can climb off  your freakin bicycle and have a cold gatorade.

arnejpegPundits seem to think there are some clues in Duncan-speeches that suggest that the states on the inside track in this epic Race to the Top  are those who 1) are committed to improving low performing schools; 2) states that are lifting caps on charter schools; 3) states that are big on improving teacher quality; 4) states that are moving their data systems into the 21st century, and 5) states that are on board with the whole “national academic standards” drive.

Given that description, states that are in the back of the pack about a small French village away from the leader group, include: 

• Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas—because they don’t want to play the national standards game.  

• Indiana and Maine because they  are considered “unfriendly” to charter schools.  Shame on them.

• California, New York, and Wisconsin who are all guilty of constructing “firewalls” between student and teacher data.

• Illinois because, in general,  their school system (even under the leadership of Arne Duncan) just suck.

The current leaders… that is, those who are vying with Lance Armstrong for the yellow jersey include:  Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (Nearly 70% of the schools that re-opened in New Orleans after Katrina are charter schools!)

up hillSo I wonder…  as the facts and the details of the Race for the Top Fund come to light, what kind of pressures will individual states bring to bear on their schools?  California is facing a $26.5 billion deficit and while the federal money won’t bridge that gap, it would certainly encourage re-investment into the system.  It would suggest we are headed down (or up) some positive path and maybe that we have a half a clue of how to catch up with the race leaders and sprint to the finish.  

I wonder if Arne Duncan is prepared for the kind of innovation that the lure of $5 billion can buy.

Billions of dollars on the table.  Bragging rights.  A poorly fitting yellow jersey that nevertheless looks pretty nice on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  New standards and expectations. 

I suspect that high stakes testing is about to get higher stakes.


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Filed under California budget, California charter schools, charter schools, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing



I’m invited to guest blog on Leadertalk on the 20th of every month.  I haven’t missed a day yet. Didn’t miss yesterday either.  So I woke up Saturday morning and watched the amazing events unfolding from Tehran and simultaneously tried to organize my thoughts around what was a very busy week for charter schools right here in California.

Check out my June post entitled “Change Gonna Come

Leadertalk is one of several blogs that are linked to Education Week.  It is a good site for tracking the voices of school leaders across the country.  The voices are many and varied:  some innovative, some naive, some courageous, some humorous, some defiant, some just looking for direction.  Some, like mine, seeking to capture El Milagro.

Leadertalk files all posts under each author’s name.  You can see the list of guest bloggers in the right-hand column. Click on Kevin Riley and you find the monthly posts that I have contributed this year.  

My favorite?  My tribute to our new President published January 20th, on the day of his Inauguration.

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Filed under El Milagro, President Obama


*Apr 28 - 00:05*

…Education, Iraq, swine flu, press conferences, basketball, being American, economic recovery, green energy, housing, kids, race relations, jurisprudence, Pakistan, college costs, the White House website, Republican demise, GM, Oval Office photos, American voters, health care, health care for kids, Guantanamo, choice, Hispanic caucus, charter schools, Twitter, Michelle, the cabinet, Ted Kennedy, NY Times, NY Yankees, Bo, Peace Corps;

JFK, Teach for America, Hugo Chavez, Washington DC, the Obama kids, on-line media, high speed rail, Isreal, stock market, Arlen Specter, waterboarding,  MSNBC, US troops coming home, Fair Pay Act, a new NCLB, affordable student loans, Air Force 1, families, world travel, stem cell research, change, civil rights, the US Constitution,  gun control, global warming, New Orleans, honest communication, US reputation abroad, GNP, the VP;

Jazz, Rachel Maddow, early childhood education, NASA, environmental protection, fuel economy, Earth Day, veterans, immigration, S-CHIP,  Americans with Disabilities,  G-20 Summit, jobs,  home ownership,  fairness, nutrition, 21st Century skills, work-family balance, performance, Social Security, foreign policy, Nuclear waste disposal, Islam; 

Darfur, fossil fuels, US tax code, executive orders, National Academy of Sciences, clean energy, urban America, fitness, organic gardens, homeland security, the arts, poverty, dynamic speeches;

Two terms.


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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, health care, President Obama, public education


At this defining moment in our history, America faces few more urgent challenges than preparing our children to compete in a global economy. The decisions our leaders make about education in the coming years will shape our future for generations to come. Obama and Biden are committed to meeting this challenge with the leadership and judgment that has been sorely lacking for the last eight years. Their vision for a 21st century education begins with demanding more reform and accountability, coupled with the resources needed to carry out that reform; asking parents to take responsibility for their children’s success; and recruiting, retaining, and rewarding an army of new teachers to fill new successful schools that prepare our children for success in college and the workforce. The Obama-Biden plan will restore the promise of America’s public education, and ensure that American children again lead the world in achievement, creativity and success.

President Obama’s education initiatives are broad-sweeping and on the mark.  Yesterday he presented his plan to make college more affordable and student loans more available to students who really need them.

in-schoolsBack on March 10, he described his “5 Pillars of Education Reform”.  His speech on education highlighted his k-12 agenda, where he intends to

  • Reform No Child Left Behind
  • Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools
  • Make Math and Science Education a National Priority
  • Address the Dropout Crisis:
  • Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunitie
  • Support College Outreach Programs
  • Support College Credit Initiatives
  • Support English Language Learners
  • Recruit Teachers
  • Prepare Teachers
  • Retain Teachers
  • Reward Teachers

If we go there– if we improve educational access and opportunity at the pre-school level as well as the K-12 and post-secondary levels, he can leverage the reform he is looking for.  At least in some small degree.   The problem is, for all the detail and ambition, the Obama education vision still does not reach far enough.  His education plan is still missing one critical component– without which–  the success of all these other reforms will be compromised.  Partly because this list of initiatives has already been implemented. There are examples and best practices of these approaches all over the country, and yet, the academic achievement gap persists.

So what is that one, profoundly  revolutionary change that will finally transform public education in America?

roceli1Universal health care.   

Just as his plan to revive the economy hinges on health care, so too does any significant hopes of educational reform.  

It’s the health care.  And the reason is quite simple: 

American schoolchildren should not have to suffer through illness or medical trauma while our health care system shuts their family out from the treatment they require and deserve.

They should not have to come to school with teeth rotting in their heads for lack of dental care.

They should not fall behind in reading (never to catch up), simply because they have undiagnosed vision problems that are often easily corrected with glasses.

They should not suffer in silence, as a first grade child at El Milagro did two year ago, while we negotiated for hearing aids with Childrens Hospital.

They should not have to endure the physical discomfort nor the  social alienation associated with childhood obesity.

They should not have to manage the debilitating side effects of poor nutrition or childhood hunger.

They should not be denied access to mental health treatment, or counseling, or therapists or specialists available to other students whose parents have complete health coverage.

Learning is hard enough to do for students, especially in a climate of ever-tightening accountability.  But where there are inequities in academic outcomes, we almost inevitably find families in economic distress.  While parents struggle to maintain their homes, keep their jobs, make a living, make a life…  they should at least have the confidence that the health care needs of their children are provided for.

If President Obama can deliver on the promise of universal health care for our children, and if public schools fully harness the power of that reform, we will see a significant reduction in the academic achievement gap that has perpetuated the inequities across socio-economic levels for decades.  

The Obama doctrine on education states:

At this defining moment in our history, America faces few more urgent challenges than preparing our children to compete in a global economy.

“Preparing our children academically to compete in a global economy”, hinges on their ability to come to a safe school, to focus, to work hard, to believe in their own capacity as citizen-learners.  It hinges on their physical, emotional and mental health.  In fact, if he can provide all of our students with HEALTH CARE, President Obama will prove to be the most influential leader in public education in our lifetimes.



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, health care, President Obama, public education, resiliency



“Every so often, throughout our history, a generation of Americans bears the responsibility of seeing this country through difficult times and protecting the dream of its founding for posterity. This is a responsibility that has fallen to our generation. Meeting it will require steering our nation’s economy through a crisis unlike any we have seen in our time.”

This past Tuesday  morning, President Obama presented his proposed education reforms to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC.  If the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is going to advocate at all for Latinos and their children in the United States, they should take great confidence away from that bright, bright morning at the Marriot Ballroom.  In the background of the President’s message  is an economy that has been ground down to the core by too many individuals who were entrusted to leave the machinery of commerce better than how they found it.  But once they got their hands on the wheel, the temptation to achieve personal gain, the lack of compassion, the lack of regulation, the lack of restraint, the lack of moral guidance, the lack of patriotism–  led the country and the rest of the world– right over the cliff toward economic collapse.

stock-mrktjpegThis happened on the last President’s watch, the one that talked about patriotism and Christian values and keeping America safe.  The one that imposed No Child Left Behind on America’ s schools and accelerated an era in which the illusion of accountability and achievement has merely driven schools to gun the motor, spin the tires in the mud, and lurch forward in the wrong direction in a cloud of spent energy and system-wide exhaustion. Just like the economy.  President Obama said:

“Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we’ve let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. Let me give you a few statistics. In 8th grade math, we’ve fallen to 9th place. Singapore’s middle-schoolers outperform ours three to one. Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should. And year after year, a stubborn gap persists between how well white students are doing compared to their African American and Latino classmates. The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it’s unsustainable for our democracy, it’s unacceptable for our children — and we can’t afford to let it continue.” 

So President Obama  connected the dots on the moribund economy and our bankrupt schools and the illusion of academic progress for a nation leaving virtually all of our children behind.  The two systems are inextricably bound.  

While there may have been too few voices signaling our economic demise with any authority or passion, we have been signaling the alarm from within our schools for 8 years:  educating children, particularly those who are severely impacted by our nation’s recession, requires a lot more than threats and bullying over standardized test results. But just as opposition to the war in Iraq was regarded as unpatriotic, warning of the dangers of such a myopic view of teaching children was disregarded as “excuses by educators who are afraid of being held accountable.”

We merely linked the academic future of our children to the economy and to the federal government’s responsibility to help ameliorate  those punishing risk factors that inhibit children’s learning.  And we were right.  In fact, two important studies were released this week that neatly framed President Obama’s vision for public education.  The first was a joint study from the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and ASU’s Education Policy Research Unit.  That report described seven “out-of-school factors” that profoundly influence students’ academic success and lead to inequalities among children: prenatal care; health care; food insecurity; environmental pollutants; family stress; neighborhood characteristics; and lack of extended learning opportunities, such as preschool or summer programs.  The report’s conclusion is that schools cannot address these variables alone.

And we’ve been saying that too.

20090323_107The second study came from the National Center on Family Homelessness who now estimate that one in every 50 American children is homeless. In summarizing the report  Time Magazine’s stated, “The consequences of homelessness are profound. Homeless children are twice as likely as other children to be retained, or held back, one academic year, or to be suspended or, ultimately, to drop out of school altogether. School districts across the country report a growing share of students who are highly mobile — who move multiple times within a school year. With each move, experts say, such students are at risk of falling some six months behind, or more, in their studies.” And as a result of our economic downturn, the trend of homeless children is growing.

Under the leadership of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama, we have an opportunity to reverse the downward spiraling course of public education as we simultaneously address childhood risk factors associated with our volatile economy.  And in fact, Mueller Charter School has been on that path for years– not because of any inspiration from NCLB, but rather, in spite of it!  From the energy and innovation and subversive entrepreneurialism that comes from being an independent charter we have created a school environment that models– at least in part– the President’s Five Pillars of Education Reform as he presented them on Tuesday: 

First Pillar:  Investing in early childhood initiatives like Head Start;  
Second Pillar: Encouraging better standards and assessments by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;         
“We will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools and instead spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments.  That’s why I’m calling on states that are setting their standards far below where they ought to be to stop low-balling expectations for our kids. The solution to low test scores is not lowering standards — it’s tougher, clearer standards.  And I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.” 
Third Pillar:  Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers; treating them like professionals and holding them accountable;
Fourth Pillar: Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools… supporting charter schools… reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day;

“Now, even as we foster innovation in where our children are learning, let’s also foster innovation in when our children are learning. We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day.  That’s why I’m calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -– whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it. “

Fifth Pillar Providing every American with a quality higher education–whether it’s college or technical training.


The ground shifted beneath our feet this week, as the President’s message signaled a change in course that favored children.  At nearly the exact same moment, 62 seventh graders from El Milagro were climbing the steps to a university that they had never laid their eyes on before. Our students visited San Diego State University, University of San Diego, University of California at San Diego, Cal State San Marcos and the Arts Institute.  In two weeks, our 8th graders will spend three days in Los Angeles visiting USC, UCLA, Cal State Long Beach and UC Irvine. They will see themselves in the faces of students on those campuses and their life course will be fundamentally altered: from their choice of friends to the goals they set and the courses they take in high school. They will likely be the first in their families to attend college. Their pathway will be made more clear as President Obama’s vision of education comes to fruition, and the unforgiving decline of America’s economy is halted.  

“We have a legacy of excellence, and an unwavering belief that our children should climb higher than we did,” the President said. 

In the meantime, we rise to the greatest challenge of our generation, to right the course of our economy and our public schools, and literally save our nation.


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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, President Obama, public education

STIMULUS: 20 Leadership Lessons From Barack Obama

stimulus | ‘stim yul us
noun (pl. -li | -,li)

• a thing that rouses energy in something or someone; an interesting and exciting quality

pres1On this, the thirty-day anniversary of the historic Inauguration of our 44th President, this much is clear: when it comes to leadership, Barack Obama has some game! In just four weeks (about the time it took most of us to figure out where the restroom was in our new school), President Obama has named and re-named cabinet members, passed a nearly $800 billion stimulus package, flown to Denver, Phoenix and Ottawa, launched Hillary into the Far East, visited a Washington DC charter school and took Michelle to dinner on Valentine’s Day. Whether you agree with his policies or not, there is much to learn from this president’s powerhouse approach to governing.

Metaphors for leadership abound– in Fortune 500 Company CEO’s, NBA basketball coaches, and admirals who have captained naval ships. You can find their books in Borders or read about them in Fast Company. Or you can follow CNN on Twitter and study how one man, our president, has approached his first month on the job and confronted the most complex and urgent crises of our generation.

So whatever your role in schools might be, here are “20 Leadership Lessons” from the dynamic presidency of Barack Obama:

1. Keep your eyes on the prize: There is nothing like a wordle to know you are consistently ‘on message’.

2. Invite them to the barbecue: Stepping outside of the hallowed halls helps to build social networks with allies and adversaries alike. Kegger at the White House!”

obama_running_blueflys_blog_flypaper_123. Don’t wait: Hit the ground at a sprint and knock over the furniture. Launch and learn!

4. Keep your family first. Period.

5. Feed your inner gym rat: Stay fit!

6. Bipartisan “process” is secondary to doing the right thing: So do the right thing.

7. Be resilient: After the inevitable setbacks, betrayals, and disappointments… you have to bounce back stronger.

8. Don’t be a sap: “I am an eternal optimist,” said the President. “Not a sap!

9. Read stuff!


10. Don’t give up your Blackberry: Especially if it is your link to the only people who will tell you the truth.

11. Speak to the conflict: When you speak from the heart to the needs of people that didn’t vote for you, that’s real Servant Leadership.

12. Have some courage. Enough said.

13. Sneak out to dinner: (But leave your Blackberry at home.)

14. Change the culture to change the outcomes: Replace the curtains hung by your predecessor and then make up your own rules.

lincolnjpeg15. Stand tall on the shoulders of giants: Don’t wobble, they became giants for a reason.

16. Appreciate the ghosts. (If I lived in the White House I would walk around at night and listen to the spirits whisper.) Our schools have a history too.

17. Surround yourself with the best people you can find: Build your own team of rivals.

18. You belong in the room: So when you feel like you are over your head, it is good to remember that you were hired for a reason.

19. Communicate… communicate… communicate: Make it your gift.

And finally, whether you are an urban school district superintendent, the assistant principal of a small elementary school, or the most powerful leader of the free world, one month on the job–

20. Remember that HOPE is what brought you here.


(Cross-posted at Leadertalk, a blogging community for school leaders hosted by Education Week.)


Filed under President Obama, resiliency, spiritual intelligence


A picture is worth 1000 words… except when it requires a caption.  Like this picture of two middle-aged African American couples embracing in a hotel room in Boston right after Barack Obama was sworn in a the 44th President of the United States.


This is more than just another poignant scene captured on America’s most magic of days. For the two gentlemen in the photo…  it HAD to be such a powerful, emotional, exhilarating moment of sweet redemption.  

Forty years ago, they took a courageous stand on the world stage.  Not unlike Rosa Parks, theirs was an act that horrified  much of white America– while it simultaneously inspired a whole generation who were growing weary of the slow pace of change in the late 1960’s.   

They have paid dearly for that moment of defiance… but it too was captured in an iconic photograph that, I can assure you, is worth at least 1000 words.  


For Tommie Smith and John Carlos, winners of the 200 meter gold and bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, January 2oth no doubt brought sweet redemption and  1000 words.

None of them necessary.


Filed under President Obama


Like this tag cloud designed by Wordle, everyone heard something different in President Obama’s Inaugural Address:


I don’t know what images or themes resonated for you, but Nelson Smith, the Executive Director of the National Alliance of Charter Schools reviewed the historical Inaugural Week in his Charter School Blog, and he heard this:

I found a strong echo of our [charter school] model in this passage of the President’s inaugural address:

 “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

What this means for charter schools can be found on the new White House web site under Education Agenda. President Obama promises to “double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools,” but warns there will be “a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools.”

Fair enough.  As on most things, I agree with President Obama (and Nelson Smith, too). But how will the President define “successful charter schools?” and what are the criteria for an “underperforming school?”  

Presently “underperforming schools” become “underperforming schools” when their test scores in math and reading fall short of the prescribed benchmarks called Annual Yearly Progress or AYP. And since nobody wants to bear the mantle of an “underperforming school”, you can be sure we all teach the heck out of math and reading.  President Obama recognizes that schools have narrowed the curriculum in response to these pressures at the expense of science and technology and social studies and the arts.  And recess. He calls it teaching to the test.  I call it teaching to what is tested. Others may call it teach what you better teach if you don’t want lose your charter or be called an underperforming school.will-i-am

Nevertheless, as says “It’s a New Day” and thank God for that.  We have a mandate for change.  And since I don’t mind using test results to determine how effectively schools are serving children and their families, I don’t care whether president Obama changes the whole assessment game or not.  

What I do care to C H A N G E is how we recognize and define successful schools– charter or otherwise. Math and reading results are one indicator, but can we get some love for the other extraordinary things that happen for children at El Milagro?

Like when we …carlos

• introduce our children to the latest technologies…

• or teach them to think…

• or refer them to the eye doctor for properly fitting glasses…

• or teach them proper dental hygiene so their teeth aren’t rotting in their heads…

• or  teach them to sing and draw and recite their poems on a stage…

• or  teach them that their forefathers won congressional medals of honor in foreign wars too…

• or help them preserve and perfect their native language…

• or connect a family to health insurance…

• or help Rafael properly grieve for his relatives who were recent murder victims in Tijuana’s horrific drug wars…

• or help Laura stay grounded even as she  is about to lose her mom to stomach cancer (which is a big deal because her dad passed away two years ago)…

And so forth.  Supporting kids in crisis– isn’t that high performance too?

Just last summer, Nelson Smith and The National Alliance of Charter Schools published a tool they call “Quality Indicators“.  It’s one way to expand the definition of what a successful school is.  So at El Milagro we decided to integrate the general concept into our charter as we get ready to take it to the local governing board for re-authorization in March.   We will be able to describe the goals of our charter in broader terms than just academic achievement– but also longitudinal growth, progress of English Language learners and the sense of engagement for students, teachers and  parents.

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So when Wordle created their cool tag cloud from some of the major themes and words that were used by President Obama in his Inaugural Address, they were unintentionally shining a bright light on his priorities.  The bigger the word the more often he used it.

 I like that C H A R T E R and  C H I L D R E N are so predominantly positioned on the top of the box, and in the center– and that they are surrounded on all sides by C A R E  and  C O O P E R A T I O N and W O R K and  H O P E.


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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, President Obama, public education